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The Genius of Glenn Beck

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"I'm a rodeo clown," says Glenn Beck. No, this man's a genius. And, no, Glenn, you're no rodeo clown. The rodeo clown causes a diversion when a bull threatens a downed rider. The rodeo clown's not the star. The circus clown is a more apt description. You're a clown, and I say that with all due respect. The New York Times reports it. "Fox News's Mad, Apocalyptic, Tearful Rising Star." Genius.

"While Mr. O'Reilly, the 8 p.m. host, paints himself as the outsider and Mr. Hannity, at 9, is more consistently ideological, Mr. Beck presents himself as a revivalist in a troubled land." Translation: characters. Shtick. Professional wrestling. All heel, no babyface. And get ready, you will see a surge of "conservative" talk like you've never seen. A Democratic House and Senate and a Black President?! Their worst nightmare converts to media overkill.

Enter Beck. His masterful creation of this crazed, lachrymating doomsayer is brilliant. And only he can do it. You have to dispossess your self of self-dignity and restraint in order to pull this con off. O'Reilly comes close when he loses it. Remember his piece with Barney Frank? Jeremy Glick? But, even then Bill doesn't channel his inner maniac and close the nut deal. Beck does it in spades. Even Hannity can't come close. Sean's trying to act even professorial compared to these guys. He's a political future to think of. Mark my words.

But Glenn Beck does it all. I saw his genius in that classic post hemorrhoid surgery YouTube piece. God only knows what the hell that was about, but I watched it and all the while kept muttering "Beck is a genius." Self-respect and dignity be damned! When it comes to great television, this is the character to watch. Why? Because nightly (or "afternoonly") millions tune in to watch what this maniac's going to say? And mania sells.

Exhibit A: CNBC, the Faux-nancial News Channel. Jim Cramer, Erin Burnett, Mark Haines, Rick Santelli and now the ouster, er, resignation of Dylan Ratigan. Wow. So much for staid, boring financial prognosticating. Remember the grandfatherly Louis Rukeyser? He wouldn't last a minute today.

Look, it's about who can scream the loudest, who can make a YouTube moment, who can get Robert Gibbs to mention them from a White House press conference, who can get mentioned period. Oh, and don't worry if you're right or wrong. Just get mentioned and have a meltdown. It's called "Pulling a Cramer." This fellow is never watched for his predictions but mostly to see when he breaks down or reverts to that creepy delivery of his.

And nobody does that better than Glenn Beck.

So I have a question. Why isn't there a . . . here's that label coming . . . progressive or liberal that can scream, holler and lose it on command? Olbermann comes to mind, but that self-respect thing gets in the way. He also wants to be respected for what he says, and in this business you have to decide whether you want respect or ratings. The two don't coexist. Keep it simple and grandiose.

Take Paul Krugman. Please. I watched him Sunday with George Stephanopoulos and thought to myself, why does one of the smartest people in the world of economics, a Nobel laureate and Princeton prof always look like he was just startled from a sound sleep. He's quiet, cerebral, thoughtful . . . and would be killed in any ratings game by none other than Glenn Beck. Think of it, you and I would find the show fascinating, but we're the minority. What does that say about a country who cares not to watch and listen to a most learned economist during what may be the worst economic straits since the Depression but instead tunes into an autodidact (at best) who warns of socialism?

Beck's that guy in the subway, ranting and raving about something. It's an unfocused passion that is watchable. So is "Animal Acts Gone Bad." But TV is about watching, not teaching. And these guys are geniuses at getting us to watch. And speaking of genius, how Rush Limbaugh pulled off that CPAC bit, baiting Michael Steele and stealing free advertising for his show . . . BRAVO!

Faux News will enjoy their highest ratings ever. Mark my words. They were down for a bit after the inauguration and 44's victory, but they're back. Bitter and better than ever.

As Hunter S. Thompson noted, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."